Come for PET, stay for Pete: Pete Llewelyn joins Real Scientists!

PeteLlewelyn intro picWe’re happy to welcome our next curator, Pete Llewelyn (@PeteLlewelyn), to Real Scientists! Pete is a production manager at the Wales Research and Diagnostic PET Imaging Centre PETIC, at Cardiff University in the UK. Read more about Pete and his work in his own words below:

I was always interested in science and technology as a child and I guess after seeing my chemistry teacher, Dr Ashton, demonstrate the thermite reaction, I though ‘wow, she just made *molten metal* out of a couple of powers!’ so you might say that that ‘sparked’ my interest in a chemistry career. Following my undergrad course at Swansea I went to the University of York to study a Masters in green chemistry which was amazing to see how a traditionally ‘dirty’ industry could be made to be energy efficient, clean and safe. After my Masters I studied for a PhD in catalysis at Cardiff University, trying to make useful catalysis with heteropoly acids. After Cardiff Uni, I stayed in Cardiff to work in and around the local area ending up in the pharmaceutical sector. My first ‘proper’ job was working in a product development dept in a pharmaceutical company just north of Cardiff. Initially it was about developing new formulations of existing products. While I was there I gradually learnt about GMP, making pharmaceuticals, the testing involved, the validation around the testing. I didn’t intend to end up working in a radio-pharmaceutical production facility, it was more or less ‘well this looks interesting, there’s no way I’ll get the job though!’

What keeps me in my job is the knowledge that I’m helping people with a life threatening condition and the fact that its very cool we work with a particle accelerator to collide atoms together and end up with a isotope that produces anti-matter. We make radiopharmaceuticals for our positron emission tomography (PET) clinic. PET uses radioactive molecules tagged with unstable isotopes to image the body by emitting an anti-matter electron (positron). This positron then meets an electron which annihilates them both in a flash of gamma radiation. It’s the gamma radiation which is detected to build up an image of where the gamma photons originated.

Our main product is fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) which is primarily used to diagnose and stage cancer. It’s also used in some cardiovascular and nervous system disorders. We also make a few neuro-tracers, flurodopa (FDOPA) and fallypride. One new development is that we’re undergoing the process of making cyclotron derived gallium tracers which is very exciting and challenging.
We’re the only PET facility in Wales providing the Welsh NHS with an essential national service. Without PET scans it would be difficult to accurately diagnose and stage cancer. With a PET scan you can also tell how well the cancer is responding to treatment. When not focusing on cancers, PET can also tell you how the body is functioning (depending on the tracer) which can really help the doctors plan treatment.

Since I’m back home most days around 2pm, it means I get to spend the rest of the day with my boy. I think it’s important for to spend as much time as possible with your children so I’ll take him to a park or a soft play area after work and generally help give his mother a well deserved rest. I guess I’m lucky in that respect, as when I’ve done normal office hours, he’s already gone to bed by the time I get home!

I’m currently a lapsed runner due to no time with my little boy. As soon as I get a suitable running pram, I’ll be heading out with him for a cheeky 5 or 10k! I enjoy doing Parkrun on a Saturday morning when I can and was quite often running 10k two or three times a week for fun. I’ve run the Cardiff Half Marathon about five times in the last 6 or 7 years and I’m planning to run my first full marathon in 2018. Ideal day off would be to treat the OH to a posh meal out at the minute! A lovely day at a nice sunny, warm beach would be amazing right now as the UK heads into Autumn/Winter.

Please welcome Pete to Real Scientists!

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